This post has been really hard for me to write. Not because I have a lack of things to say, but because it is hard to put my experience into words.
I learned so incredibly much while down in Texas. Not only did I gain more experience with forensic archeological techniques, more importantly, I experienced the humanitarian side of this crisis at a deeply personal level. As I have written in a previous post, growing up in Michigan and now attending school in Indiana, I have been very removed from what’s occurring at the border. Going to Texas was my first experience with this humanitarian crisis, and it hit me really, really hard. Meeting individuals and families who survived the journey where so many perish was an extremely powerful and emotional experience for me. While we always show respect for bones, talking with the individuals who survived the same conditions experienced by those being exhumed in the burial park added a new and unique dimension to understanding the crisis at the border and its relationship to humanitarianism. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to volunteer at the Respite Center because experiencing this side of the crisis ignited inside of me a passion for humanitarian work.
Although we accomplished a lot while down in Texas, there is still so much to be done and because of that, it doesn’t feel right to back in Indy. I wish we could have stayed longer and helped more, but it’s reassuring to know that the efforts down there don’t stop when we leave. Everyone involved in Sacred Heart Humanitarian Respite Center, South Texas Human Rights Center, Operation Identification, as well as the various other organizations committed to identification and bringing awareness to the crisis at the border remain hard at work. I am grateful to have been able to meet some of the individuals involved in these organizations, the work they do is truly amazing.
With the start of a new semester, assignments, projects, papers, and deadlines will begin to consume my time once again. No matter how busy I get, I will never forget the experiences I had in Texas. These experiences have changed me in many ways; they have allowed me to grow as a scientist, as an anthropologist, as an individual, and as an advocate. I only hope that I am able to return to South Texas once again to volunteer my time to aid in this crisis. So, Texas, it’s not goodbye, but see you later.
I have been back in Indianapolis for just a few days and I already miss Texas so much. As exhausted as I was by the end of our trip, looking back through all of the photos we took, the media coverage, and reflecting back on my personal experiences, I really do miss it all.
I know for a fact that my experience volunteering in Texas has changed my perspective on and bettered my understanding of the migrant crisis occurring at the border. It had been described to me to some degree before heading down there, but listening to all of the people who are involved with this crisis every day and hearing their stories has taught me so much more. I didn’t fully realize how much I had actually learned until I had an uncomfortable conversation with a friend of a friend just the other day…
Though I typically try to avoid bringing up politics in conversation with acquaintances, I had mentioned that I had just gotten back from Texas, and this person asked me what I was doing there. So I explained it to him. I told him that we were exhuming migrant remains so that they can hopefully be identified and sent back to their families. His reply? “Who cares?”
At first I didn’t even know what to say. I asked for clarification, and his response caught me off guard. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but my experiences in Texas allow me to better articulate mine. I explained the details of the crisis and shared what I had learned during my stay in Texas. I know that many people up north here in Indiana likely do not have a complete understanding of the migrant situation (I know I didn’t prior to traveling to Texas) and I am happy that I am now better able to explain it. I also understand, however, that my words may not change how they feel.
Another thing I learned in Texas is the importance of considering a person’s background and life experiences when attempting to understand their point of view. But this argument really further solidified my pride in the work that is being done by everyone in South Texas and further highlighted the need for people across the country to be educated about the border crisis. It also made me extremely eager to stay involved with this work in any way that I can.
Thank you to everyone who was involved in providing me this opportunity to help, to everyone who helped us while we were down there, and to everyone who is continuing to work on this crisis situation everyday.
A few days ago I returned home from Texas. The return from any trip is always hard for me because I’m exhausted and reluctant to leave, but this trip had the added layer of being emotional and mentally draining as well. This particular return was a full day of travel, the last step of my very first research trip; my first time as a participant observer in the field. Not only was I physically exhausted from long days in the field, I was mentally exhausted from analytical conversations and hours of field notes each night, and emotionally exhausted from coming to grips with the tragedy of mass death at the border. But the most worthwhile pursuits are those that CAN exhaust us. I loved being completely immersed and focused on this trip. I loved the full days, hard work, and surprises.
The dedication and hard work of the UIndy Forensic Anthropology team made the mission of recovery and identification personal for all involved. They were incredibly patient with the Cultural team and happy to answer our many questions and explain exactly what they were doing at each step. I was also thrilled to be able to try my hand at digging and troweling in the pit. Being in the field as a cultural anthropologist is an amazing experience because of the unique placement it provides within a population. I loved being an extra hand on deck and helping when I could, but also being able to ask questions and learn so much about a field of work outside my own studies. We also got to take advantage of unique opportunities; such as attending a press conference at the South Texas Human Right Center, attending a panel discussion about immigration law, and visiting the Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen. Each of these experiences and many others uncovered more and more layers of the migrant crisis. After 8 days, I felt that I had only gotten a glimpse into this complex situation.
The most memorial experience for me was being able to talk with a man and his son at the Respite Center. Being able to talk face to face and hear his story was a moving and heartbreaking experience. I am so thankful for him taking the time to open up to us and share his account of the many hardships he has faced and the motivation for pursuing a life in the US. Personal encounters such as these force us to see the humanity of what has become a national political discussion.
I’m excited to keep up with the heroic efforts being made at our border to bring justice and humanitarian aid to those seeking to enter our country. We are immensely privileged to be citizens of this country, and we must accept our duty to advocate for and assist those who want the same opportunities we have always known. It’s time that more of us come to realize the important responsibility each of us has in upholding the human rights and freedoms of all people. Although we can easily separate ourselves from an issue that does not directly affect us, people’s lives are at stake and that demands our attention. I’m honored to have been a small part in the effort of advocacy and I plan to continue bringing awareness to the situation.